Nothing imprints on your mind quite like a scary moment from a game that's not supposed to be scary. This is doubly true when you're a soft kid who makes a point of staying away from media that's gory or frightening. Nobody says "I'll play a Super Mario game" because they enjoy the feeling of being hunted down by a fire-wrapped deity. But that's pretty much how I felt when the Angry Sun made its first relentless assassination attempt against me.
It's been decades since the Angry Sun lit up my nightmares. "I'll never let myself be frightened by a Mario enemy ever again," I said after I vaulted over my initial fear. My celebration was premature. The Angry Sun is back in Super Mario Maker 2 with an ironically cold stare. It doesn't want to frighten me again, though. It can't even be bothered. It takes no joy in the chase. Its only purpose is to reduce Mario to a pile of bone-flecked ashes.
I'm going to watch the Angry Sun traumatize a whole new generation of children. Truly, I've lived too long.
Much as I loved Super Mario Bros. 3 as a youngster, I was initially very bad at it. It's a rough game to work through if your dexterity isn't up to snuff. In time, I became good enough to reliably beat the first world, Grass Land. Now, beating Grass Land invariably scores Mario a P-Wing, a valuable item that lets Mario fly indefinitely without needing to build up momentum for take off. I never, ever spent that P-Wing before I arrived at the level I dreaded most: The Desert Land level marked with an ominous patch of quicksand instead of a number. The stark, arid domain of the Angry Sun.
Here are some fun facts about the Angry Sun. First, it just looks wrong the first time you see it in Super Mario Bros. 3. Not only because it wears a murderous glare that's unfitting on a Mario character, but also because it scrolls along with Mario on the topmost sprite layer. So you start this level that doesn't have a traditional number (fright #1), you notice an unusual "background" element (fright #2), you quickly learn this scowling visitor will pursue you for the entire level, no matter how fast you run (fright #3), and then its scowl somehow grows deeper as it falls from the sky and tries to murder you (screaming).
Yes, the Angry Sun made an impression on me. For ages, I just used the P-Wing I won in Grass Land, flew high above the stage, and let the Sun rise and fall on a landscape devoid of Mario. It still made me uneasy to watch the furious star try to murder Mario's shadow, or phantom, or whatever it thought it was chasing, but at least I was out of reach.
Then what little power I thought I had over the Sun was whisked from me when it literally rose up from behind a hill without warning in World 8-2 and swooped to the foreground to barbeque Mario. In case you need a reminder, 8-2 is Dark Land. Dark. Land.
I can't be the only wuss with deep-seated trauma related to the Angry Sun. I heard the nervous chuckles and saw the side-glances when the Angry Sun was announced for Super Mario Maker 2. When I attended Nintendo's Super Mario Maker 2 hands-on event last week, I had to make sure my mental scars were healed. I plopped about 60 Mario 3-style Angry Suns into its level builder, and I didn't even flinch. "The Sun of Satan no longer has any power over me!" I cried to the confusion of everyone else attending.
Then I leaned in for a closer look at the New Super Mario Bros-style Angry Sun, though I'm sure my therapist would've recommended against it. I didn't like what I saw. The New Angry Sun isn't angry. It doesn't change expression when it dives in for the kill. It just stares. It doesn't judge, but it also doesn't care. It feels no satisfaction, no elation when its rays scald Mario's flesh off his bones. It's worse than the sprite-based Angry Sun of yore because its unflinching gaze assures you there's no point in asking for quarter. Even trying to escape above the clouds might prove futile: The New Angry Sun's eyes are empty, yet they see all.
Experiencing the world as an adult does a lot to dull the edge on your childhood fears. I don't want to look at the New Angry Sun for longer than I must, but neither will it keep me up at night (I think). I guess in a twisted way it does my heart good to know the Angry Sun has graduated to the Heartless Sun, and that a whole new generation of young Mario players will make its fearsome acquaintance when Super Mario Maker 2 comes out on June 28.
Best of all, you won't have to wait to scare your kids witless. Everything in Super Mario Maker 2 is unlocked from the very start. Go forth and be a terrible parent.